Category Archives: Garden Advice

Wellness Simplified! Herbalism From The Ground Up

We’re so excited to be able to carry one of our neighbor’s books! Krista and Skyler Rahm of Forrest Green Farm in Louisa County, Virginia, have just published Wellness Simplified! Herbalism From the Ground Up. Krista and Skyler designed this straightforward guide to help you connect with nature and learn to grow and use herbs in your everyday life. 

For context, I’m one of SESE’s writers and social media managers, and I had the pleasure of perusing a copy over the last week. Digging into herbalism can be tough and intimidating. I’ve dabbled in herbalism for several years and have read my fair share of herb books. Krista and Skyler have done and an incredible job of pulling together usable information in an easy-to-understand format for Wellness Simplified!. 

Gardening Basics

If you’ve read this blog often, you’ll know I believe that a productive garden starts with the soil. Krista and Skyler share my sentiments stating, “success in your garden relies on a healthy soil diet!” They’ve followed this up with crucial information about soil amendments, nutrients, and composting without sounding like a science textbook.

This first section provides several other essential gardening basics that we’re big fans of here on the SESE blog. Krista and Skyler cover the fundamentals of seed starting, transplanting, beneficial insects, companion planting, pest management, and even vermicomposting!

Herbal Preparations

From there, they delve right into harvesting and preserving herbs and recipes for herbal preparations. When you’re new to herbalism, understanding when to use different herbal preparations and even what they are can be challenging. I found this section especially helpful. 

The internet is full of herbal recipes. Bloggers will provide you with recipes for tinctures, elixirs, glycerites, and infusions, but unless you’ve taken an herbalism course, how do you know what those are, let alone how to use them appropriately. While a course may be great for those who can make the financial and time commitment, having a go-to guide on hand makes herbalism more accessible.

Krista and Skyler also provide an informative section on formulating, guiding you to go further than following others’ recipes on your herbalism journey. They’ve included a list of things to consider, like family history, dieting and eating habits, emotional feelings, and more, plus a step-by-step guide to creating a formula.

Wellness Simplified! Hibiscus Plant Profile (Photo from Forrest Green Farm)

Plant Profiles

Many herbal books offer “plant profiles,” a quick overview and historical use of herbs with no practical information. History is fun and sometimes contains valuable lessons, but it isn’t what I’m looking for in a modern herbal. Knowing that folks used fennel to ward off evil spirits in the past is great, but I want to know what I can use it for today.

The profiles in Wellness Simplified! offer the information you need to incorporate each herb into your practice. Learn how to identify, grow, harvest, and use 127 herbs from the humble lemon balm to the tropical moringa. The index in the back of the book will even help you locate plants by the problem they can treat. For example, search the index for dandruff and be taken to the page for Oregon grape!

Wellness Simplified! will be a great reference on my shelf for years to come. It’s packed with clear-cut, step-by-step information that you need to grow and use herbs. Grab the book here on the SESE shop, and check out Forrest Green Farm

Crops for Succession Planting

There’s nothing like meals with homegrown ingredients straight from your garden. Grocery store produce can’t compare in flavor or price. If your goal is to eat as much fresh food from your garden as possible this season, you’ll need to use succession planting. 

Succession planting means that you don’t plant all at once. For example, you can sow a patch of lettuce or salad greens every couple of weeks so that when some bolts, another batch will be ready to harvest. This method also works great with crops like sweet corn that mature all at once. Sow a block every two weeks to have sweet corn over a more extended period. 

Here in the Southeast, you can get several successions of many crops. Just check your estimated first frost date. Then look at a crop’s days to maturity and count backward. Note, when daylight hours are dwindling during the fall, you need to add on some extra days. 

Here are some of the crops that are ideal for succession planting:

Collards

Especially in the Southeast, collards can be grown for quite a long season. Here in zone 7a, we begin sowing collards on March 10th and continue until September 1st.

Sweet Corn

As I mentioned above, sweet corn planted simultaneously will all be ready to harvest at the same time. This method of planting is excellent if you want to freeze or can a bunch, but not ideal for fresh eating. In zone 7a, we plant can plant successions of corn from about April 21st through July 15th.Zinnias (succession planting crop)

Zinnias

Flowers can be succession planted too! Zinnias are one of the easiest cut flowers to grow, and sowing several successions can keep you in beautiful bouquets all summer long.

Beans

Succession planting may not be necessary for dry beans, but planting a few successions can be a good idea if you’re growing beans for fresh eating. Planting beans at different times can also help figure out a good planting time to avoid bean beetles. In zone 7a, we begin planting beans around April 15th. We sow pole beans until July 15th and bush beans until August 1st.

Summer Squash & Zucchini

If you’ve been gardening for a few years, you’re probably familiar with the gluttony of squash just a few plants can provide. To help mitigate this, plant just a couple of hills at a time and spread that harvest out! In zone 7a, we plant summer squash and zucchini from April 21st through July 21st.

Cucumbers

Like summer squash, cucumbers can provide an overwhelming abundance if you plant a large patch. If you’re canning pickles, this is a great thing! However, if you want to enjoy the crunch of fresh cucumbers over a longer season, you’ll need to plant multiple successions. Succession planting can also help you get a larger crop even if you struggle with losing plants to Downey mildew and other diseases. Here in zone 7a, we’ll sow cucumbers from around May 1st to July 21st.

Beets

Beets thrive in cool weather, but you can still get several successions in. We recommend doing a few in the spring and a few in the fall. Fall beets are ideal for storage. In zone 7a, we sow beets during the spring from March 15th to June 15th and then again in late summer from August 15th through September 15th.Broccoli (succession planting crop)

Broccoli

Many gardeners think of broccoli just as an early spring crop, but with a little work, you can get multiple broccoli harvests throughout the season. Here in zone 7a, we can do a combination of direct sowing and transplanting. We begin sowing indoors on January 31st and continue until May 31st. We start transplanting out on March 15th and continue to July 15th. We also direct sow from March 10th through July 1st. Check out our post, Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather for advice on sowing cool-season crops like broccoli during the summer.

Turnips

Like beets, we sow turnips in the spring and again for our fall garden. In the spring, we sow them from March 10th through April 15th. In the fall garden, we sow them from August 7th through October 1st.

These are just a few of the crops well-suited to succession planting. You may also want to try carrots, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and other vegetables. We even do tomatoes to ensure we have enough late tomatoes for our fall taste testings! Use succession planting in your garden to have smaller quantities of fresh produce over a longer season. 

Beginner’s Guide to Okra & Giveaway

Okra has long been a common crop in southern gardens. This warm-weather-loving plant originated in northeast Africa and was brought to the U.S. in the late 1660s by way of the slave trade or via Europe. Its high mucilage content makes it an excellent vegetable for thickening soups and stew, but it’s got many other uses too! Grow your own with this beginner’s guide to growing okra.

Preparing a Bed

Okra needs a location with full sun to maximize production. It thrives in fertile, loamy, well-drained soil. The ideal soil pH is between 6.5 and 7.0. Okra does best with lots of hummus, so it’s good to add a couple of inches of well-aged compost to the bed before planting. 

Planting Okra

Okra SeedlingsOkra seeds have a hard seed coat and germinate slowly, especially in older varieties. To speed things up, soak your seed overnight before planting. Alternatively, you can use a technique called scarification. It sounds complicated, but it just means you use sandpaper to lightly abrade the seed coat before planting, helping it break down faster.

Okra can be started indoors or direct sown. To start indoors, sow in pots 2 to 3 weeks before planting out. To direct sow okra, wait until all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature averages 65°F. Sow seeds 3/4 to 1 inches deep. 

If you live in a northern climate, sow okra indoors 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date. Some folks with high tunnels or other season extension methods may be able to set them out a bit earlier; just make sure they have plenty of room to grow. Okra can get up to 6 feet tall!

If you’ve started your seeds indoors, be sure to harden off your okra like other seedlings before transplanting. It’s best to transplant on an overcast day or in the evening. Water your plants in well.

Sow or transplant your okra into rows 5 to 6 feet apart. Transplant or thin your okra to 18 inches apart in the rows.

Caring for Okra

Hill Country Heirloom Red OkraOnce plants are a few inches tall, mulch heavily around them, this keeps the soil cool and moist and helps suppress weeds.

Keep okra plants well watered through the summer. They are most productive and disease-resistant when grown in moist soil. 

Some folks side-dress okra with compost of balanced fertilizer once they’re about 6 inches tall. However, you want to avoid over-fertilizing. Too much nitrogen encourages okra to put more energy into leaf production and little into flower and pod production. 

Grow okra on a 4-year garden rotation plan to avoid pest and disease issues. It’s worth noting that older okra varieties are more resistant to root-knot nematodes due to their deep root systems. Grasshoppers may eat your okras’ lower leaves.

Harvesting 

Most okra varieties are best when harvested between 2 and 4 inches long. Pod tenderness will vary over the season. You may be able to snap young pods off with your hands, or you can use hand pruners to cut them.

You may want to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting okra. Okra has hairy leaves and tiny spines on the pods, which irritate most people’s skin.

The Whole Okra & Giveaway

If you want to learn more about this amazing crop, check out The Whole Okra: A Stem to Stem Celebration by our friend Chris Smith. He provides excellent growing advice, history, recipes from chefs, and a fantastic look at the many uses for okra, including okra oil, okra coffee, okra marshmallows, okra tofu, okra vodka, okra pickles, okra pancakes.

Be sure to visit us on Instagram this week! We’re giving away a copy of The Whole Okra and a packet of one of Smith’s favorites, Puerto Rico Everblush Okra. Visit us on Instagram @southernexposureseed before Thursday, May 5th, 2022, at midnight EST to enter for your chance to win.